Category Archives: John F. Kennedy

“The Kennedys” Miniseries Debuts on Reelz Channel

Television review: ‘The Kennedys’

Despite several strong lead performances, it turns out that even an eight-part miniseries can’t do justice to the story of one of the country’s most dynamic, if flawed, political families.

April 01, 2011|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic


The main problem with “The Kennedys,” the rumor-plagued, eight-part series that was rejected by the History Channel, which had commissioned it, before landing at ReelzChannel, is not one of politics or even accuracy but of scope. It is impossible to tell the story of this iconic family even in eight parts, even by limiting the timeline, as creators Stephen Kronish and Joel Surnow have done, to the years between the beginnings of World War II and the assassination of Robert Kennedy. There is too much back story, too many important events, and too many Kennedys.

Kronish addresses the last of these problems by simply cutting the family in half. “The Kennedys” that the title refers to are Joe Sr. (Tom Wilkinson), Rose (Diana Hardcastle ), John F. (Greg Kinnear) and his wife, Jacqueline (Katie Holmes), Bobby (Barry Pepper) and his wife, Ethel (Kristin Booth). Fourth daughter Patricia is seen briefly in one of the later episodes, married to Peter Lawford and playing hostess to one of his Marilyn Monroe-studded soirees, while Rosemary, the victim of an early lobotomy, appears briefly in flashback. But Kathleen (who died in an airplane crash in 1948); Eunice, who founded the Special Olympics and was married to Kennedy advisor Sargent Shriver; Jean, who eventually became U.S. ambassador to Ireland; and Edward (Teddy), the longtime Massachusetts senator and onetime presidential candidate, are not only not present, they are never even mentioned.

Which is much more troubling than the various scenes of infidelity (Joe’s and Jack’s), election “rigging” (Joe’s), mob connections (Joe’s) and drug use (Jack’s and Jackie’s) that have apparently raised the blood pressure of Kennedy historians, History Channel execs and various industry watchers for reasons that, while watching the actual episodes, is inexplicable. There is nothing in “The Kennedys” that hasn’t appeared before in reputable books, films and articles in the Kennedy-obsessed “Vanity Fair.”

An argument could be made that a channel called “History” might want to avoid docudramas, which rely on artistic interpretation, but if it was the intention of producer Surnow, a political conservative, to sully the Kennedy name, he certainly went about it in a strange manner. Jack and Bobby emerge splendid, smart and heroic despite their flaws, and even Joe, though portrayed as a ruthlessly ambitious father and truly awful husband, appears in the end guilty of little more than old-time campaign tactics and a once-oppressed immigrant’s dream of joining the ruling class.

Casting went a long way toward balancing the script’s inclusion of the unsavory side of being a Kennedy. Wilkinson can do just about anything at this point in his career, and he illuminates equally Joe’s hubris and desperate fear of failure, while, with his perpetually worried eyes, Kinnear plays a JFK in constant pain — from his back, from his father’s expectations, from his own infidelities. Don Draper certainly never felt this guilty about getting a little on the side.

The revelation of “The Kennedys” is Pepper, most recently seen as the snaggletoothed villain in “True Grit,” who delivers an Emmy-deserving performance, slowly building a Bobby who becomes the family’s, and the Kennedy administration’s, spine of steel, aware of the choices and sacrifices he is making and prepared to make them every time. As attorney general, Bobby is the president’s hammer even as he attempts to be his conscience.

The scenes among these three men alone are worth trying to find out if you get ReelzChannel. Unfortunately, they are too often being moved through historical events as if they were chess pieces and are surrounded by a supporting cast not up to their level. Holmes is pretty as Jackie, but her emotions are confined to happy (“I love him”) and sad (“He cheats on me”), with absolutely no nuance and only the occasional flash of spirit, intellect and inner strength that made Jacqueline Kennedy an icon in her own right. As Ethel, Booth is almost unbearably perky in early episodes, although she mellows as the series unfolds; the scenes between Bobby and Ethel are far more poignant and powerful than those between Jackie and Jack. Hardcastle (married to Wilkinson) can’t do much with a Rose who spends most of the series saying her rosary and making pronouncements about God’s will in a broad Eastern accent — it isn’t until the final episode that mention is made of the crucial role Rose played in the political careers of her sons.

But she is just another victim of the genre’s biggest danger. In attempting to be both sprawling and intimate, “The Kennedys” winds up in a narrative no-man’s land. So the tensions of Bobby taking on organized crime, the riots in Mississippi, the Cuban missile crisis and the strained relationship of the brothers with J. Edgar Hoover and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson are treated with the same time constraints and dramatic emphasis as Joe’s endless “recovery” from his stroke and Jackie’s realization that being a first lady is difficult.

While this “greatest-hits” pace does take the potential sting from the more salacious details — Jack’s infidelities are few and far between, Frank Sinatra is blamed for any mob-related fallout, the pep-me-up shots Jack and Jackie receive do little more than pep them up — it also buries the fine performances of its leading men, who too often seem to be simply marching toward their characters’ inevitable doom.



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New Gallup Poll: JFK Still Most Popular U.S. President


85% Says It All


According to a new Gallup Poll, President John F. Kennedy continues to earn the highest retrospective job approval rating from Americans, now 85%.

Ronald Reagan ranks second, with 74%. While these presidents’ ratings are largely unchanged from 2006, Bill Clinton’s rating has improved, putting him in third place, while Jimmy Carter, at 52%, has dropped from third to sixth. Richard Nixon remains the lowest rated.

The poll was limited to approval ratings for American presidents who have served in the past 50 years.

Approval of How Past Presidents Handled Their Job -- Recent Trend (2006, 2010)

The Nov. 19-21 Gallup poll asked Americans to say, based on what they know or remember about the nine most recent former presidents, whether they approve or disapprove of how each handled his job in office.

Kennedy has consistently ranked No. 1 in this Gallup measure initiated in 1990.



Read full story here: Kennedy Still Highest-Rated Modern President, Nixon Lowest.

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Opinion: History Channel Kennedy Miniseries will be “Shamalot”


The Kennedy Brothers




Dear Friends —
I am taking time today to write and express my extreme displeasure with The History Channel’s planned miniseries The Kennedys. After reviewing portions of the draft script, I was floored by the sheer number of inaccuracies, distortions and omissions of essential facts in this docu-drama.
This is not what future generations should be learning about the presidency of John F. Kennedy.
As we reach the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inauguration this year, presenting an epic miniseries which is not only grossly inaccurate but clearly designed to assassinate the character of a president who gave his life for this country, is wholly unacceptable to me. 
My daily concern as a historian, author and museum curator is the quality of education we are giving our children in the field of history. As a radio/print journalist, Kennedy scholar, and founder of several websites devoted to the Kennedy family legacy, I have devoted 25 years of my life to providing accurate information to anyone who is interested in learning about our nation’s 35th president and his family.
So when I see a script like The Kennedys, proposed to air on (of all places) The History Channel, I shudder to think of the potential and far-reaching consequences.
When fiction is presented as fact, that is entertainment. It is not history and has no place on The History Channel.
I am also highly offended that the same History Channel which brought us such outstanding documentaries as JFK: A Presidency Revealed and Turner’s The Men Who Killed Kennedy would ever stoop this low, becoming little more than a mouthpiece for right-wing rumormongering and propaganda the likes of which we would expect from Fox News.
Many of my fellow historians and researchers have joined together to let the History Channel know how we feel. We must try and stop this miniseries from being produced as currently written.
Please ask The History Channel to allow JFK’s living decendants, friends and key advisors – as well as credible historians and researchers – to consult on production of The Kennedys miniseries. Then, and only then, can we rest assured that this presentation on the Kennedy family is truly “fair and balanced.” 
Please take a few minutes to learn more about The Kennedys miniseries here:

History channel draws flak for planned JFK miniseries

Pittsburgh Post Gazette – Dave Itzkoff – ‎Feb 19, 2010‎

 Also please visit the website to view a short film directed by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films which features interviews with Ted Sorensen, David Talbot, Nigel Hamilton, Rick Perlstein, David Nasaw and other Kennedy historians expressing their shock and outrage at this deeply-flawed production. You can view some excerpts of the script and decide for yourself is this is what you want your grandchildren to know about President Kennedy and his family. 

If Jack Kennedy were alive today, he’d surely sue them for defamation of character and win. But since he’s sadly not here to defend himself, looks like it’s going to be up to those of us who still care to speak up before it’s too late. 

If you agree, I hope you will add your name to the petition at and tell the History Channel to present real history. 

Thank You,
New Frontier
Founding Editor



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Rep. Patrick Kennedy Pulls a Lyndon

In other shocking political news today, Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy announced that he will not seek re-election, leaving the U.S. Congress without a Kennedy for the first time since 1947.

Wow. Now that’s what I call “pulling a Lyndon,” allright.

“I shall not seek, nor will I accept…oh to hell with it, I quit, ok?”

After Scott Brown’s stunning victory in the Massachusetts special election for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, is the tide turning in American politics? For better or for worse? Your thoughts?

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Kennedy Funeral Plans Announced


WASHINGTON – Sen. Edward M. Kennedy will lie in repose Thursday and Friday at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, followed by his funeral Saturday at a city church and burial later that day near his slain brothers at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kennedy’s family plans to travel by motorcade with his body from their compound on Cape Cod, Mass., to the library in Boston on Thursday. The facility will be open to the public for certain periods on both days while Kennedy lies in repose. The Kennedys have planned a private memorial service at the library for Friday night, according to a schedule of events released by Kennedy’s Senate office.

On Saturday morning, a funeral Mass for the late senator will take place at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica — commonly known as the Mission Church — in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston. The cavernous basilica on Tremont Street, built in the 1870s, was where Kennedy prayed daily while his daughter, Kara, successfully battled her own cancer.

“Over time, the Basilica took on special meaning for him as a place of hope and optimism,” the family statement said.

Kennedy died late Tuesday after a yearlong struggle with brain cancer. He was 77.

A burial service at Arlington was scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Kennedy, who served in the Senate for nearly half a century, will be laid to rest near his brothers, former President John F. Kennedy and former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, on the famous Virginia hillside that serves as the burial sites of others from the storied clan, including former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

At the site of the eternal flame rest four Kennedy family members: the former president and his wife; their baby son, Patrick, who died after two days; and a stillborn child. Robert Kennedy’s grave is a short distance away and somewhere near it is the most likely site for Edward Kennedy’s burial.

Senator Kennedy spent more days than most at Arlington visiting the graves of his beloved brothers and paying tribute to the fallen men and women of Massachusetts who gave their lives for our country,” the statement said.

A senior defense official said the Kennedy family some time ago approached the Army to explore the possibility of burying the senator at Arlington, the nation’s most celebrated burial ground of fallen military and the resting place of astronauts, Supreme Court justices and other giants in American history.

Kennedy is eligible for burial at Arlington by virtue of his service in Congress as well as his two years in the Army, 1951 to 1953. He was a private first class and served in the military police at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, then located in Paris and now in Belgium.

The family met with Arlington officials again Wednesday to finalize the plans, said a second defense official.


Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek in Washington, Philip Elliott in Oak Bluffs, Mass., and Denise Lavoie in Boston contributed to this story.


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Ted Kennedy Loses Battle With Cancer



“For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”


Edward M. Kennedy, one of the most powerful and influential senators in American history and one of three brothers whose political triumphs and personal tragedies captivated the nation for decades, died late Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., at age 77. He had been battling brain cancer.

His family announced his death in a brief statement released early Wednesday. “We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,” the statement said. “We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all.”

President Obama released a statement Wednesday morning, pointing out that “virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. . . . Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time. . . . Our hearts and prayers go out to” the Kennedy family.

Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, was the last male survivor of a privileged and charismatic family that in the 1960s dominated American politics and attracted worldwide attention. His sister, Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died two weeks ago, also in Hyannis Port. One sibling, former U.S. ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, is still alive.

As heir through tragedy to his accomplished older brothers — President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.), both of whom were assassinated — Edward Kennedy became the patriarch of his clan and a towering figure in the U.S. Senate to a degree neither of his siblings had been.

Kennedy served in the Senate through five of the most dramatic decades of the nation’s history. He became a lawmaker whose legislative accomplishments, political authority and gift for friendship across the political spectrum invited favorable comparisons to Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and a handful of other leviathans of the country’s most elite political body. But he was also beset by personal frailties and family misfortunes that were the stuff of tabloid headlines.

For years, many Democrats considered Kennedy’s own presidency a virtual inevitability. In 1968, a “Draft Ted” campaign emerged only a few months after Robert Kennedy’s death, but he demurred, realizing he was not prepared to be president.

Political observers considered him the candidate to beat in 1972, but that possibility came to an end on a night in July 1969, when the senator drove his Oldsmobile off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Mass., and a young female passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned.

The tragedy had a corrosive effect on Kennedy’s image, eroding his national standing. He made a dismal showing when he challenged President Jimmy Carter for reelection in 1980. But the moment of his exit from the presidential stage marked an oratorical highlight when, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, he invoked his brothers and promised: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on. The cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

Instead of a president, Kennedy became a major presence in the Senate, which he had joined in 1962 with the help of his politically connected family. He was a cagey and effective legislator, even in the years when Republicans were in the ascendancy. When most Democrats sought to fend off the “liberal” label, the senior senator from Massachusetts wore it proudly.

In a statement issued early Wednesday, Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate’s majority leader, called it the “thrill of a lifetime” to work with Kennedy, describing him as a friend, the model of public service and “an American icon.”

He said Kennedy’s legacy “stands with the greatest, the most devoted, the most patriotic men and women to ever serve” in the Capitol.

Reid said that in addition to mourning his loss, “we rededicate ourselves to the causes for which he so dutifully dedicated his life.”

For decades, Kennedy was at the center of the most important issues facing the nation, and he did much to help shape them. A defender of the poor and politically disadvantaged, he set the standard for his party on health care, education, civil rights, campaign-finance reform and labor law. He also came to oppose the war in Vietnam and, from the beginning, was an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq.

Congressional scholar Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, described Kennedy’s mark on the Senate as “an amazing and endurable presence. You want to go back to the 19th century to find parallels, but you won’t find parallels. It was the completeness of his involvement in the work of the Senate that explains his career.”

Republicans repeatedly invoked Edward Kennedy for fundraising causes. They portrayed the hefty, ruddy-faced Massachusetts pol as the ultimate tax-and-spend liberal, Big Government in the flesh.

Despite that caricature, he was widely considered the Senate’s most popular member and was on congenial terms with many of his Republican colleagues. On a number of issues, he searched for compromises that could attract GOP votes.

He collaborated with a Republican president, George W. Bush, on education reform, with a Republican presidential candidate; Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), on immigration reform; and with arch-conservative senator J. Strom Thurmond (S.C.) on major crime legislation. Only Thurmond, who died in 2003 at age 100, and Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), served longer in the Senate than Kennedy.

Kennedy’s congeniality and his willingness to work with the opposition were at the core of his legislative ability. “He was fun; he was considerate to his colleagues,” Mann said. “He would take a 20th of a loaf compared to getting nothing.”

Kennedy and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) forged a lasting friendship that began in 1981, when Hatch became chairman of what was then the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. With nine liberals and seven conservatives on the committee, Hatch knew he needed Kennedy’s help — and he got it.

“We have passed so much legislation together,” Hatch told a Salt Lake City reporter in 2008. He noted having worked with Kennedy on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, an effort to prevent undue governmental burdens on the exercise of religion, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Long before he fell ill, Kennedy made health care a major focus of his career, terming it “the cause of my life.” His legislation resulted in access to health care for millions of people and funded cures for diseases that afflicted people around the world. He was a longtime advocate for universal health care and was instrumental in promoting biomedical research, as well as AIDS research and treatment. He was a leader in the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and the 1996 Kennedy-Kassebaum Bill — with Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) — which allowed employees to keep health insurance after leaving their job.

Health care reform is “a defining issue for our society,” Kennedy told fellow senators during a 1994 debate. “Do we really care about our fellow citizens?” It was a question he asked countless times, in one form or another, during his long Senate career. He faced opposition from most Republicans — and more than a few Democrats — who insisted that Kennedy’s proposals for universal health care amounted to socialized medicine that would lead to bureaucratic sclerosis and budget-breaking costs and inefficiencies.

Receiving a diagnosis in May 2008 of a brain tumor, Kennedy rose from his hospital bed that summer and cast a dramatic vote on the Senate floor in favor of legislation preventing sharp cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. Several Republicans were so moved by his presence that they switched their earlier votes on the bill, giving it a veto-proof majority.

His family had been touched by cancer even before he got his own diagnosis. His son, Edward Jr., lost a leg to bone cancer at age 12 in 1973. His daughter, Kara Anne, was told she had lung cancer in 2003.

A list of major laws bearing his imprint, in addition to health care, fills pages. In 1965, he led the successful Senate floor battle that passed what was popularly known as the Hart-Celler Act, landmark legislation that abolished immigration quotas and lifted a 1924 ban on immigration from Asia.

“This bill really goes to the very central ideals of our country,” Kennedy said on the floor of the Senate. The legislation, the most significant immigration reform in four decades, passed both the House and Senate by overwhelming margins.

He was long the Senate’s leading voice on civil rights, including the 1982 Voting Rights Act extension, as well as efforts to advance the concept of equality to include the disabled and women in the workplace.

In 1972, he was a key supporter of Title IX, an amendment requiring colleges and universities to provide equal funding for men’s and women’s athletics. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, he played an important though indirect role in the 1973 investigation of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. In 1996 and again in 2007, he was the lead Senate sponsor of legislation increasing the minimum wage.

In the 1980s, when a Republican president and Senate mounted a major campaign to roll back programs he had championed, he led the fight to save them. Even in the minority, he worked to expand government’s role in providing health care to children, making loans available to college students and extending civil rights to the disabled, among many other embattled initiatives.Known as Teddy, the youngest son in a powerful family, Kennedy was first elected to the Senate as a 30-year-old. Despite a reputation for callow recklessness and immaturity, he seemed destined for higher office from the beginning. Such a fate seemed even more assured after the assassinations of his brothers in the 1960s.

His oldest brother, Joseph, who was probably headed for a political career, died in a plane explosion while serving in World War II. Brothers John and Robert were killed in their 40s. So it was that the youngest Kennedy, and the last Kennedy brother, was thrust into the role of family patriarch and, ultimately, of elder statesman.

Overcoming an early reputation as a vacuous young man of privilege, as well as a string of debilitating personal tragedies and burdensome expectations that he would fulfill his brothers’ broken legacies, Kennedy became his own man in the Senate.

Edward Moore Kennedy was born in Brookline, Mass., on Feb. 22, 1932, the ninth and last child of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. His maternal grandfather, John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, was a mayor of Boston. His paternal grandfather, Patrick J. Kennedy, served in both houses of the Massachusetts Legislature.

His father made millions in real estate, banking, Hollywood films and Wall Street, as well as in liquor during Prohibition. The elder Kennedy served under Franklin D. Roosevelt as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, then as head of the Maritime Commission.

His mother, a devout Roman Catholic, was exposed to the boisterous world of Boston Irish politics early, campaigning as a young girl with her father, the mayor, and meeting presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley. Decades later, she became an accomplished campaigner for her sons.

Joseph Kennedy was away during much of his young son’s early years, and Ted stayed with his mother in New York, where the Kennedys had moved in 1926. The family was reunited in London in 1938 when Joseph Kennedy was named U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, where — as legions of Kennedy haters would never forget — he was an outspoken opponent of America’s entry into World War II.

From his mother, Ted Kennedy learned the core values of the family’s Catholic faith; from his father, he learned to compete. “We don’t want any losers around here,” Joe Kennedy would tell his children. “In this family, we want winners.”

As the Kennedy family shuttled between London, Boston, New York and Palm Beach, Fla., Ted Kennedy studied at a number of private boarding schools before enrolling in 1946 at Milton Academy outside Boston. He was an undistinguished student, although he was an excellent debater, a good athlete and popular with his classmates.

From Milton, he enrolled at Harvard University. Joe Kennedy once warned his youngest son to be careful, Kennedy biographer Adam Clymer wrote, because he was the kind of person who would always get caught. The warning went unheeded. As a freshman, Kennedy asked a friend to take a Spanish examination for him, Spanish being one of his weaker subjects. Both students were expelled.

Afterward, Kennedy enlisted in the Army and served two years in Europe during the Korean War before his discharge in 1953. Jack Olsen, author of “The Bridge at Chappaquiddick” (1970), observed that Kennedy volunteered for military service “with much the same attitude as a European youth joining the French Foreign Legion.”

Welcomed back to Harvard, he was able to indulge his passion for football and was a first-team end in 1955, his senior year. Kennedy received an undergraduate degree in history and government in 1956 and received a law degree in 1959 from the University of Virginia.

He plunged into politics in 1958, managing his brother John’s successful campaign for reelection to the U.S. Senate. Two years later, he coordinated his brother’s presidential primary campaign in 13 Western states.

After John Kennedy’s election to the presidency in 1960, Edward Kennedy became an assistant to the district attorney of Suffolk County, Mass.; he was paid a dollar a year. He also began laying the groundwork for his own political career. Traveling at his own expense, he accompanied members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a fact-finding tour of Africa in 1960.

Before taking office in January 1961, John Kennedy urged Massachusetts Gov. Foster Furcolo to appoint Benjamin Smith II to his vacated Senate seat until a special election scheduled for November 1962. Smith, the mayor of Gloucester, Mass., and the president-elect’s college roommate, was immediately labeled as a placeholder until Edward Kennedy reached 30, the minimum age for a U.S. senator under the U.S. Constitution.

That was exactly what happened. The youngest Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination three weeks after his birthday, and Smith stepped aside.

His chief rival for the nomination was Edward J. McCormack Jr., the state attorney general and nephew of John W. McCormack (D-Mass.), speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time.

Although Kennedy avoided a potentially damaging campaign issue by revealing his expulsion from Harvard before his opponent could mention it, the primary campaign was bitter. McCormack repeatedly reminded voters that Kennedy had never held elective office and questioned his judgment and qualifications to be a U.S. senator. In the first of two “Teddy-Eddy debates,” McCormack tried to turn the Kennedy name against his opponent. “And I ask you,” he said, pointing a finger Kennedy, “if his name was Edward Moore — with your qualifications, with your qualifications, Teddy — if it was Edward Moore, your candidacy would be a joke. Nobody’s laughing, because his name is not Edward Moore; it’s Edward Moore Kennedy.” McCormack’s attacks backfired, and Kennedy won by a margin of more than 300,000 votes. He went on to defeat the Republican nominee, George Cabot Lodge, and was sworn into office in January 1963.

3239923.jpg image by mikesamerica

As a freshman senator, Kennedy deferred to his more venerable peers, concentrating on legislation of local interest. That approach began to change on Nov. 22, 1963. He was in the chair, in the absence of the vice president, presiding over a desultory debate concerning a library services bill.

A press aide ran to the floor with a bulletin he had ripped off a teletype machine in the lobby and handed it to the first senator he reached, Spessard Holland (D-Fla.). Then the aide cried out to Kennedy: “Senator, your brother has been shot!”

Kennedy turned pale, gathered his papers together and rushed out to the lobby, where he began making phone calls to the White House and to his brother Robert, the attorney general. Confirming the news of the shooting, Edward Kennedy hurried home to Georgetown and told his wife Joan, who had heard nothing.

That night, he and his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, flew from Washington to Hyannis, Mass., where their father lay half-paralyzed with a stroke. The family had not told him; in fact, they tried to keep the news from him. Only when he asked that the television be turned on the next morning did Kennedy tell his father that his eldest surviving son was dead.

John Kennedy’s assassination helped make his youngest brother’s reelection almost inevitable, despite his relatively sparse Senate record, but he almost lost his life in the process. Flying to Springfield, Mass., to accept the nomination of the state’s Democratic convention, his twin-engine plane crashed in an apple orchard seven miles short of its destination. The pilot died instantly, and Kennedy was pulled from the mangled wreckage with a broken back, three broken ribs and a collapsed lung. An aide to Kennedy also died in the crash.

The first doctor who saw him cautioned that he might be paralyzed for the rest of his life. After a few days, doctors determined that he had suffered no permanent nerve damage.

His wife, mother and Kennedy family functionaries campaigned for him as he spent long months of recovery lying on his back. After his fellow Democrats nominated him by acclamation, he won the general election against a relative unknown, by 1,129,000 votes.Kennedy’s initial foray into health care issues came in 1966 after he became aware of the difficulties facing Boston public-housing residents who had to rely on the city’s teaching hospitals. Although they lived only four miles from the hospitals, it took them up to five hours to get there and back on buses and subways, including the time it took to wait in an emergency room.

In August 1966, he visited a community health clinic opened by two Tufts University medical school professors on two renovated floors of an apartment in the housing project. Within a couple of months, Kennedy managed to get money through Congress for a program of community health centers. By 1995, there were more than 800 centers in urban and rural areas, serving about 9 million people.

As a brother of a president on the front lines of the Cold War, he initially expressed “no reservations” about the American military commitment in Southeast Asia. That support began to wane after two trips to Vietnam and as U.S. involvement escalated toward the end of the decade.

He said years later, as quoted in Clymer’s 1999 biography of the senator, that a trip he made to Vietnam in 1968 was the turning point. It left him troubled, he said, by the casualties the United States was causing and “the failure of the Vietnamese to fight for themselves.” He came to believe that the Vietnam War was “a monstrous outrage.”

By 1968, his brother Robert, then the junior senator from New York, had become the standard bearer of the antiwar movement. Some antiwar Democrats were urging Robert to run in Democratic primaries against President Lyndon B. Johnson. Edward Kennedy, who had grown close to his brother during their time in the Senate together, advised against it. He argued that a run in 1968 could not succeed and that it would damage his brother’s chances for the 1972 nomination. Privately, he also was afraid that his brother would be assassinated.

On March 15, 1968, Robert Kennedy announced that he was running not “merely to oppose any man but to propose new policies.” On June 5, 1968, Sirhan B. Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian outraged by Robert Kennedy’s support of Israel, shot him in the head in the kitchen pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

After the assassination, Edward Kennedy temporarily withdrew from public life. He delivered the eulogy at his brother’s funeral in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then spent the next 10 weeks sailing, often alone off Cape Cod, brooding about the loss his family had endured. He considered leaving politics altogether.

Returning to his senatorial duties in August 1968, he made ending the Vietnam War his top priority. He offered a four-point plan that included an unconditional bombing halt in North Vietnam and unilateral reduction of American forces.

Over the next few years, he made scores of antiwar speeches around the country. He condemned President Nixon’s “Vietnamization” strategy — in which the South Vietnamese took over more responsibility for military operations — as “a policy of violence” that “means war and more war.”

He supported every end-the-war resolution that came before the Senate until the U.S.-backed Saigon government fell in 1975.

In 1969, he wrested the post of Senate majority whip from Russell B. Long, a powerful Senate veteran from Louisiana. Winning by five votes, Kennedy at 36 became the youngest majority whip in the history of the Senate.

He lost the position to Byrd of West Virginia in 1971, in part because tallying votes and tending to tedious detail were not among his strengths, but also partly because of his preoccupation with a scandal two years earlier that claimed the life of a young womanand changed forever the arc of his political career.

On July 18, 1969, Kennedy attended a small get-together of friends and Robert Kennedy campaign workers on Chappaquiddick, a narrow island off Martha’s Vineyard.

Late that night, the car he was driving ran off a narrow wooden bridge and plunged into a tidal pool. His only passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, one of the “boiler room girls” in Robert Kennedy’s 1968 campaign, drowned.

Kennedy, who failed to report the incident to police for about nine hours, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of an accident. He received a two-month suspended sentence and lost his driver’s license for a year.In a televised speech on July 25, six days after Kopechne’s death, Kennedy confessed to being so addled by the accident that he was not thinking straight. “I was overcome, I’m frank to say, by a jumble of emotions: grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock,” he said.

Kennedy’s public statement did little to quell rumors about what actually happened. For years, speculation about the multilayered mystery was almost as intense as that surrounding the assassination of his brother, the president.

Although Kennedy denied rumors of intoxication or a “private relationship” with the young woman, lingering doubts about the incident ended, at least for a few years, any presidential ambitions the senator might have had.

He easily won reelection to the Senate in 1970, and by the late 1970s, the Chappaquiddick incident had faded enough that Democrats were again talking about a Kennedy challenge to a faltering Carter presidency. A 1978 Gallup poll showed that rank-and-file Democrats preferred Kennedy over Jimmy Carter the incumbent by 54 to 32 percent. Kennedy decided to run, but his brief, inept campaign managed mainly to wound the Democrat already occupying the White House.

The fatal wound to Kennedy’s presidential hopes came during an hour-long interview with Roger Mudd on Nov. 4, 1979, when the CBS journalist asked him the most basic of questions: “Why do you want to be president?” His muddled, stammering response — Kennedy “made Yogi Berra sound like [Israeli statesman] Abba Eban,” columnist Mark Shields observed — made the question moot from that moment on.

He stayed in the race until the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York’s Madison Square Garden, where the party faithful got a glimpse of the candidate who might have been when he delivered one of the great speeches of his career. In powerful, ringing tones, his “dream shall never die” speech called on the party to recommit itself to vintage Democratic values.

“Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the idea of fairness always endures,” he proclaimed. “Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue. . . .”

He congratulated Carter and then concluded his speech with the passion and defiance that had become vintage Kennedy: “For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

Delegates leaped to their feet. Their uproarious demonstration lasted more than half an hour.

With the White House out of reach, Kennedy gave himself to the Senate and relied on a staff that most observers considered the best on Capitol Hill. His aides stayed longer than most assistants in other offices, in part because Kennedy entrusted them with responsibility and relied on their expertise. Occasionally, he supplemented their salaries from his own funds to keep them from leaving.

In 1987, he took the lead in opposing President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court. Kennedy portrayed Bork, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as a right-wing activist and helped doom the nominee. “In Robert Bork’s America,” Kennedy said, “there is no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women; and, in our America, there should be no seat on the Supreme Court for Robert Bork.”

His unsuccessful opposition to the high court nomination of Clarence Thomas in 1991 was less vocal, partly because he was preoccupied by an incident in which a nephew, William Kennedy Smith, was arrested and charged with rape in Palm Beach, Fla. (Smith was acquitted.)

The senator and his wife, Joan Bennett Kennedy, who struggled with alcoholism for many years, divorced in 1982 after 24 years of marriage. Tales of public drunkenness, womanizing and loutish behavior dogged him for the next decade. At the same time, he conscientiously carried out his role of family patriarch. As the oldest surviving Kennedy male, he was not only father to his own three children but also surrogate father to more than two dozen nieces and nephews.

In a 1991 speech at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Kennedy made an apology of sorts for his personal misconduct. “I recognize my own shortcomings, the faults in the conduct of my private life,” he said. “I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them.”

Kennedy seemed to regain his footing, personally and politically, after his marriage in 1992 to Victoria Anne Reggie, a lawyer from a Louisiana political family. She survives, along with Kennedy’s sister; three children from his first marriage, Kara Anne Kennedy, Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.); two stepchildren; and four grandchildren.

In 1994, Edward Kennedy defeated a Senate challenge by Republican businessman Mitt Romney and never faced another serious battle for his seat.

Although his party lost the White House six years later, Kennedy remained in the thick of the legislative action. President Bush’s signature piece of domestic legislation, the No Child Left Behind bill, was going nowhere in early 2001, when Kennedy, who had put his mark on nearly every education law since the 1960s, declared his support. He considered the bill a worthy effort to increase public-school accountability through rigorous standardized testing.

With Kennedy and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) corralling skeptical Democratic votes, the most important education legislation in decades became law in early 2002.

Six years later, the law’s renewal faced widespread opposition from those who considered No Child Left Behind a balky and unworkable intrusion into local control of schools. Kennedy again came to its rescue, despite his deep and bitter opposition to the Bush administration on a number of issues. He argued that the law had made schools better but that it had flaws that needed to be fixed.

On most other issues, most notably the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Kennedy was bitterly opposed to the Bush administration. He once said that his proudest Senate vote was his 2002 vote against authorizing Bush to use military force against Iraq.

“There was no imminent threat,” he said in a 2004 speech at the Brookings Institution. “This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud.”

In January 2008, at a rally at American University, Kennedy endorsed the presidential candidacy of another early opponent of the war, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Declaring that “it is time for a new generation of leadership” in America, he passed over his friend, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who also sought the Democratic nomination for president. Kennedy campaigned for Obama until suffering a seizure that May.

Three months later, Kennedy left his hospital bed and flew to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Slowly making his way to the podium to the cheers, and tears, of 20,000 rapturous fellow Democrats, he proclaimed, in a voice still strong, “a season of hope.”

Delegates of a certain age heard echoes of his brother’s 1961 inaugural address and of his own impassioned speech in Madison Square Garden nearly three decades earlier.

“This is what we do,” he proclaimed. “We scale the heights; we reach the moon.”


Story by Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 6:17 AM

Staff writers Robert Kaiser and Martin Weil also contributed to this report.


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Eunice Kennedy Shriver: A Very Special Lady





* I posted this personal rememberance of Mrs. Shriver on my dear friend Jack Kennedy’s MySpace blog (and you thought they didn’t have computers in heaven!).  Wanted to share it with all of you who loved this amazing woman!


– New Frontier
Founding Editor

Dearest Jack –

I always had such a great admiration for your sister Eunice.

During your time in the Oval Office, America had yet to experience the women’s rights revolution and few women worked outside the home, much less achieved positions of global leadership. Eunice, in her characteristic “I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks, I’m going to do it anyway” style, smashed that barrier and showed us all just what a woman could do.

In the 1960s, when America was more concerned with civil rights and equal treatment of blacks and racial minorities, no one gave much thought to the mentally disabled. Quite frankly, the Kennedys might not have given the matter much gravity either had it not struck their own family in such a heartbreaking way. Eunice, in her characteristic “I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks, I’m going to do it anyway” style, smashed that barrier too and showed us all what supposedly “retarded” people could do.

It is important to remember that the first such games were not held in a large arena before thousands of people with television cameras rolling as it was in 1968. What would later become known as the Special Olympics started out in 1962 as a small athletic competition in Eunice’s backyard. Little publicity was given at the time (even though the organizer of these Olympic trials was the president’s sister…newsworthy in itself), which tellingly illustrates just how little America cared about our “special needs” citizens back then. 

For centuries Americans looked down upon the mentally disabled persons in their communities, and even felt ashamed of their own family members who were “different.” The Kennedys themselves avoided acknowledging Rosemary’s struggle – oftentimes even her very existence – for political reasons, knowing that people might not be inclined to vote for a man who had a “retarded” sister. Of course this made no sense whatsoever, but it was the cultural climate of the time. And so poor Rosemary, confined for life to an institution, had all but been forgotten.

But not by Eunice!

No one ever asked Eunice to lift a finger to help the mentally disabled. No one ever asked her to start a foundation for their betterment and to fight against the discrimination they suffered in our society. In fact, it would have been much better politically had she left well enough alone and not made an issue of it. But Eunice, in her characteristic “I don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks, I’m going to do it anyway” style, brought this important civil rights issue to the forefront, against the seemingly wise counsel of her own family’s political advisers.

Turns out the “experts” were wrong. Eunice was right. The Special Olympics has now expanded to nearly every country across the globe. Thanks to Eunice’s tireless efforts over almost half a century, the human race now takes a far more enlightened view of the mentally disabled.

Helping advance the cause of fairness and equal treatment of our world’s ignored, misunderstood, and oft-mistreated brothers and sisters was something Eunice Kennedy Shriver just had to do –  and I for one am so glad she did it.

Only a woman like Eunice could have done it. She was one very, very special lady; what people of your generation used to call “a real go-getter!”

And you, my dear Jack, were so fortunate to have this brilliant, glowing soul as your little sister. (Of course I don’t have to tell *you* that!) She was all that you admired; a fighting Irish spitfire and a true profile in courage!

I hope the two of you are enjoying your long-awaited family reunion in heaven.

May the circle be unbroken.

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